Satellite Tagging Our Target Birds

Adrian BlumfieldSatellite Tagging1 Comment

hen harriers satellite tagging project. A Hawk and Owl Trust initiative

Back Story

In July 2011 a juvenile female Hen Harrier, fitted with a satellite tag fledged from its nest in the North Pennine area. Through the kindness of Stephen Murphy of Natural England I was privileged to watch the satellite fixes as she flew north to the Pennine grouse moors. She fared well, survived the winter and then started looking for a mate. No luck. She then surprised everyone by flying up to a grouse moor just south of Edinburgh. She drew a blank there too. Back to North Pennine rea. All the males were attached. Amazingly she flew north again to Thurso at the very tip of Scotland. At one stage she’d flown 201 kilometres in just under eight and a half hours.

On 8 May she headed south again, unerringly homing in on grouse moors, tracked at 4000 feet as she passed the summit of Ben MacDhui in the Cairngorms, during her journey south. Unlike her dash north, Beth positively loitered on her return journey, arriving back in the area on 22 May.

She eventually found a mate on one of the Pennine grouse moors where sadly she was shot and killed.

Spurred on by the memory I was determined the Hawk and Owl Trust should do something positive to help save the Hen Harrier. We needed to know much more about what they did after they fledged, how they dispersed across the heather moorlands and their communal roost sites in winter where they are most vulnerable to persecution. Our chairman found a sponsor, who wished to remain anonymous, to donate a pair of satellite tags so that, through the good offices of Natural England, we could monitor two juvenile Hen Harriers after they fledged. The next problem was that there were only three breeding pairs of Hen Harriers in England in 2016. There were none nesting on grouse moors.

I knew that RSPB and Natural England would have first pick of the sites to be satellite tagged. Stephen suggested a nest site that was just over the border into Scotland, just a stone’s throw from England. Any birds fledged would be quite likely to drift south into England. Stephen told me that there were 7 nests there and that he would seek permission for us to tag two of the juveniles before they fledged.

On 13 July Jemima Parry-Jones, Hawk and Owl Trustee and renowned Bird of Prey expert, and Hamish Smith, Hawk and Owl Trust volunteer, set off from Newent in Gloucestershire for the Scottish borders north-east of Carlisle. They arrived at 10.30 am to be met by Stephen Murphy and his son, James. They walked out through the heather to the chosen nest site.

Stephen told everyone to wait while he went forward to collect the bird to be tagged. He came back and they gathered in a circle to watch as he deftly fitted the harness over the bird and sewed it up. A cock Hen Harrier wheeled overhead keeping an eye on the intruders.

Finally, Stephen set the satellite tag on a 10:48 pattern. It would record for ten hours and then shut down to re-charge in 48 hours of day light. Only then, was the juvenile Hen Harrier, a male, put back into its nest.

The procedure was repeated at another nest where a juvenile female Hen Harrier was also satellite tagged.

The data received from the satellite tags will be screened by The Hawk and Owl Trust and a delayed imposed on it before it is displayed on this website.

The birds have been named: Rowan the male and Sorrel the female. Visit our website and watch their progress.

One Comment on “Satellite Tagging Our Target Birds”

  1. I believe I saw a female hen harrier near the stone circle at Orton, Cumbria. Flew from a hedge into a lower valley field onto a post. 17/09/16

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